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Experiencing Tropical Modernism with Sri Lankan Architect Geoffrey Bawa

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From Miami beach, Florida, USA, to coastal cities in Singapore, Brazil, and Australia, to Malaysian forests and Costa Rican mountains, we often marvel at some of the elegant modern architectural structures that not only adapt to the tropical climate with ample ventilation, shade, and fluid living space, but also blend into the environment. These are the common characteristics of Tropical Modernism, an architectural style created by Sri Lanka's most renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa.

He used locally sourced building materials, which have often been previously discarded, to create modern designs. During his lifetime, he designed over 100 buildings, including prominent governance structures, schools, offices, residences, resorts, and hotels, not only in his home country, but also in India, Indonesia, Mauritius, Japan, Fiji, and Singapore. His famous quote is "Architecture cannot be totally explained but must be experienced. It should play to all the senses – the smell of vegetation after rain, the sound of birds, and the wind in trees."

Upon returning to Sri Lanka in 1948, he purchased Lunuganga, a 15-acre (almost 61,000-Square meter) property on the banks of the Dedduwa Lake in Bentota, which became his private estate and lifelong labor of love. His vision was to create an authentic Sri Lankan Garden based on the beautiful gardens he had seen across many countries during his travels.

One of Mr. Bawa’s most famous estate constructions was for his artist and designer friend, Ena de Silva and her husband. “You only have to go there and be in that environment to know that you’re in somewhere special. There is just such an aura about it. The landscape, the way there are no walls to this house, the way the inside and the outside become one. It is a unique building.”

Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel was the last project Mr. Bawa oversaw and was known as one of his best. The title of the exhibit reflects Mr. Bawa’s philosophy that it’s important to see and feel a space before designing a structure within it. “Geoffrey always said, ‘You have to look out from the inside, rather than the other way around.’”
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